For those of you who don’t follow Internet memes (click the link if you have no idea what a “meme” is), there is one that has been going around for a whole now that has been dubbed “Advice Mallard”. I haven’t the foggiest clue where the original idea came from, but the meme is a picture of a particularly photogenic duck, upon which people write pieces of advice. The advice can range from “duh”-level obviousness to thoughts born of personal experience that are actually pretty helpful. One such example that I came across a while back was this one:
In case anyone can’t see the image, it says “If you want your kids to feel like they can tell you anything, don’t overreact when they tell you something.” More easily said than done, perhaps, but still something I strongly believe parents should take to heart.
I can’t think of any personal examples because my parents were fairly approachable, but I can think of several examples where friends or classmates landed themselves in a lot of trouble because they didn’t talk to their family for fear of the reaction.
Let me paint you a picture. Imagine a young girl, 13 or 14. She’s in the cusp of the joys of puberty and decides to ask her mother about sex. It’s an innocent question…for the sake of our story we’ll say that she asks how you know when you’re ready to have sex. The mother could sit down and have a frank, honest conversation with her daughter, but instead she chooses to pitch a fit: “You aren’t ready for sex!” she shouts. “You’re not old enough to have sex! You’re too you to be even thinking about sex and I don’t want to hear another thing about it until you’re married!”
Fast forward a bit. It could be a few years, it could only be a few weeks. The girl has a boyfriend, and in the infinite wisdom of the young, they decide to get intimate. The girl knows she should be on some kind of birth control, but she has no idea how to get it, and after the last reaction she got there is no way she’s going to talk to her mother about it. Ultimately she ends up going without because, lets face it…kids never think anything bad is going to happen to them. She ends up pregnant. She can’t hide it for long and her mother finds out. Amidst a slew of angry shouting and accusations, the mother releases this gem: “Why didn’t you ask me to get you on the pill?!”
Given a number of different possible original conversations and end results, I’d be willing to put money down that most kids have had to deal with this kind of thing. Perhaps it didn’t end with such a dramatic result, but think back: how many of you avoided discussing something very important with your parents because you were terrified of the reaction you’d get? And how many of you had to later deal with your parents’ completely clueless reaction to why you would feel you couldn’t go to them with your problem? Betcha most people reading this are raising their hand right now.
Humans have a very basic learning pattern that is based on cause and effect:
Flower pretty; flower good.
Lightning scary; lightning bad.
This translates to young children in the form of the discipline we give them. If they do something and we laugh, they’re going to keep doing it. If they do something and we scream and yell and send them to their room, chances are they’re going to think twice about doing it again.
It’s no different when it comes to making your children feel comfortable bringing things to you. If they bring you an issue and you’re calm, understanding, and helpful, they learn that you’re a good person to come to with their problems. If you have a fit, yelling and dictating your authority, they’re going to avoid bringing anything to you at all costs.
Consider this when your kids come to you. If they tell you they’re being bullied at school, don’t storm down their and start raving like a lunatic, embarrassing the hell out of them; talk to them about it and come up with a game plan together. If they tell you that they think they have a problem with drugs or alcohol, don’t preach and berate them for being an idiot; praise them for coming to you and work with them to get through it. And for the love of all that is good, even if you still think of your kid as being a child, if they come to you asking about birth control, get it for them. Work in a calm, honest conversation about sex, sure, but absolutely get them the birth control because here’s the thing… Whether we like it or not, and no matter what we do to try and stop them from making stupid mistakes, our kids are ultimately going to end up doing whatever they damn well please. Knowing that, does it make more sense to try (and fail) to force them to make the decisions you want them to make, or to openly and supportively give them the help and information they need to make smart decisions on their own?
Yeah. That’s what I thought.
Have you ever felt like you couldn’t go to your parents with something important? What made you feel that way? Did it end up causing problems down the road? Please share! I’d love to hear from you!